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Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing
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Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  506 ratings  ·  126 reviews
Multiple award-winner Roger Rosenblatt has received glowing critical acclaim for his exceptional literary works—from the hilarious novels Lapham Rising and Beet to his poignant, heartbreaking, ultimately inspiring memoir Making Toast. With Unless It Moves the Human Heart, the revered novelist, essayist, playwright, and respected writing teacher offers a guidebook for ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by Ecco (first published December 15th 2010)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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May 02, 2011 rated it liked it
I went to the library for another book, but I picked this one up because Rosenblatt wrote it. I’m sure he was my section leader in an English class at Harvard half a century ago. Subsequently he became Senior Tutor and then Master of Dunster House, my residence hall. This little book is really an extended essay, told in the first person, about a somewhat fictional writing class he taught, constructed from his memories and typical students. He uses this setting to discuss principles of writing ...more
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I took a class with Roger as an undergrad. I consider myself to be one of a very fortunate few who were able to do this. I look forward to continuing to work with Roger. He didn't talk about what he was writing often, but when he did, we always approached it like we were being given a very special treat that required a great reverence. He didn't talk about this book, though. I found out about it when he published the last part: a letter to his ungrateful students in the New Yorker. This book ...more
Jan 29, 2011 rated it liked it
I have a nonfiction bookshelf here and it feels weird not to place this book there. It's by TIME essayist Roger Rosenblatt, after all, and about his experiences teaching an MFA writing course at Stony Brook University called "Writing Everything." Why the hesitation, then? Rosenblatt makes up the classroom dialogue between himself and his students, that's why. As he himself writes, it's "fiction, top to bottom," and, turns out, it makes the book a helluva lot funnier than it might have been if he ...more
James Murphy
Feb 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'd expected this book to tell me more about the experience of writing, and reading, than it does. It's constructd in the form of a memoir in which Roger Rosenblatt recounts a semester of a writing class he teaches at Stony Brook University. Through his teaching points and the loosely remembered and constructed conversations of his class he discusses the elements of writing good fiction, essays, and poetry. My introduction to Rosenblatt and his book came through an interview of him on the PBS ...more
Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Last Wednesday evening I attended Rosenblatt's reading at Politics & Prose and heard much of what's on these pages, in some cases verbatim. No matter. Every word he said, every story he shared, is worth hearing again. The letter to his writing class, printed on the book's last pages, just might get taped to my wall. It moved me to tears--not impossible to do when the subject is writing and books, but I can't say it's happened in a while. I first became acquainted with Rosenblatt when he ...more
John McDonald
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Toward the conclusion of this charming (ugh! The advertising writer who named a toilet paper using most of this-Charmin-really described how the word could best be used.), pleasant, and helpful book which Rosenblatt writes in the medium of Professor Rosenblatt engaging with his students in a writing class, a "reunion dinner" is described with former students with whom he has engaged in a running conversating throughout the book, at a restaurant owned by one of those students. As they sat and ate ...more
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this but deep down it's not a book about writing; it's a book about teaching.
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was looking for something else and found this book on the library's shelves. It's short and readable. The title and the cover engaged me. And the author is apparently well known, an expert, though I hadn't heard of him.

When I sat down to read, however, it was just ok. This book is a strange blend of fiction and nonfiction; basically the author embellished actual conversations with students in his class to make the book much more enjoyable (build interesting characters who always say witty
Rebekah O'Dell
Nov 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
This charming, compelling book follows a semester in Roger Rosenblatt's writing workshop at Stonybrook University. Part memoir and part practical writing guide, Rosenblatt engagingly writes what could easily have been a vastly inferior book.

One of the things I loved most about this book is that it is as much a book about teaching as it is a book about writing. I found myself underlining gems that I insist on emailing to other teacherly/writerly friends, writing on my chalkboard, and posting as
Apr 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is everything I love rolled into one. It's a book about the writing craft, to be sure, but it's so much more than that. It's the story of one semester in Rosenblatt's "Writing Everything" class, complete with the lively, diverse group of students and the discussions about everything from their personal backgrounds to writing experiences to snippets of their writings. It's more than a how-to manual or a memoir of teaching writing or even a story of a semester in a classroom. It's about ...more
John of Canada
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"Books count.They disturb people.You never heard of a tyrant who wanted to burn the tv sets."
"...I hate the intrusion of journalism when we are talking about real writing."
"Jasmine pipes up out of the blue.'I don't like John Donne.'In forty years of teaching literature and writing courses,I had never heard such a thing."
I love this book.Enough that I am stealing a category from one of my Goodreads friends and giving it a 6 star rating.The book tells a story about how to tell stories.It is also a
It is difficult for a book to capture the atmosphere of a classroom, which is what Rosenblatt tries to do here: to pass on his convictions about creative writing, developed through many years of teaching and writing, to a broader audience than fits in his classroom. He writes classroom scenes in dialogue, as if his students all have the timing of stand-up comics and one pithy insight after another falls from his lips. I enjoyed seeing how he cultivates a cranky, somewhat insulting teaching ...more
Mar 08, 2011 rated it liked it
I like most books about writing, mainly because they inspire me to write more. This book was jaunty and easy to read, but kind of simplistic. It's a good evocation of a writing class' spirited repartee with an engaged (and engaging) teacher, but the format wore on me after awhile. Roger Rosenblatt, though charmingly self-deprecating, is a little too charming, and the reconstructed dialogue too glibly entertaining to be convincing (Rosenblatt freely admits that he has made up most of the dialogue ...more
Carol Bakker
Feb 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle, writing, 2015
I read (and liked) Rosenblatt's memoir Making Toast about his daughter's sudden death, so I checked out his next book: a chronicle of a year teaching a postgraduate writing class.

Now, I'm a junkie for books on how to write. To say I have dozens would be only a minor stretch. I love to read them, to re-read them, and to promise myself that someday I will do what they say.

So I was reminded, as expected, to slash away at adverbs and adjectives. Yes. But I really enjoyed Rosenblatt's comments as a
Laura Leaney
May 23, 2011 rated it liked it
I am slightly disappointed. The book is set up as a memoir of a class Roger Rosenblatt once taught, but it's a fictionalized amalgamation of students he once had and the comments he once heard from them. The re-created dialogue feels unnatural to me - and all the students are overly bright shining faces hoping to please the professor. I've always been a fan of Rosenblatt, but this little book made me a tad depressed. I've taken enough writing courses to know that there's at least one student ...more
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-writing
"Nothing you write will matter unless it moves the human heart, said the poet A.D. Hope. And the heart that you must move is corrupt, depraved, and desperate for your love."

I think "Unless It Moves the Human Heart" is Roger Rosenblatt's Magnum Opus. The final word of a life lived with countless words. It is one of the most inspiring, fun, funny, serious writing books I have read. That it is a work of fiction on the craft of writing is brillant. This is one of the few writing books that I want to
Emma Sedlak
Sep 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I used 115 post-it note flags for a 150 page book. This is a beautiful work of teaching and writing.
Feb 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: how-to-write
Not bad, but it was a little boring at times.
Anson Cassel Mills
Jan 10, 2020 rated it liked it
There are helpful insights in this quasi-fictional memoir about a writing class that Rosenblatt taught at Stony Brook University in 2008. Though Rosenblatt called the class “Writing Everything,” he really isn’t interested in writing everything but in writing imaginative fiction. Rosenblatt made it clear in a 2011 interview that although he considered Strunk and White’s Elements of Style “extremely good for solid, adequate writing, it is not good for inspired writing. That probably wasn’t its ...more
Danielle Routh
Sep 15, 2019 rated it liked it
I used quotes from this book to support my junior thesis on why the novel isn't dead (why? Your guess is as good as mine) but didn't read it in full until now. It's winsome and readable, full of pithy quotes about writing and solid instruction from an author who clearly knows his stuff but isn't so famous to be inaccessible. I would definitely recommend this to all writers.
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A short, lyrical observation of one year in a adult writing course. The dialogue between students and teacher give the reader new perspectives on the craft. Because none of the students were professional writers, questions are posed to the teacher that we might all ask. The answers are worth reading.
Mar 06, 2019 rated it liked it
The format of a lecture series means this is generally circuitous and digressive, but there are a few useful insights contained within. Moreso than direct practical advice, however, the strength of this approach is that it allows readers the space to ponder over the act of writing from various perspectives.
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
Ok, I gave up a little over 60% in. I had hoped this book would inspire me to write, or give me ideas on how to make my writing inspiring. Instead, it was a lot of fictionalized conversations between the author & students he has had and it all seemed rather rambling and self absorbed.
Sapphire Mohler
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I read this book in my english class and i thought it was great. Rosenblatt seems like an amazing teacher and id like to think i learned something about writing while reading his book
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting thoughts will hopefully improve my writing.
Donna Vaal
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fabulous. A must read
Oct 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
Roger Rosenblatt is a huge name in the world of writing. He's written magazine columns, plays, essays, and books and is a master of language. I've always enjoyed his articles in Time-he's a favorite of mine. In this book he describes a semester of teaching several students to write, by having them experiment with different forms of fiction and poetry. In an interview for his book, he describes the concepts he wanted to bring to the classroom to inspire his students:

"In one instance, I closed
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Filled with notes and comments. Very thought-provoking and inspiring, although I don't always agree with all of Rosenblatt's "pronouncements".
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Rosenblatt reminds us in a tender, semi-biographical way, that great writing is not about craft alone, but as the title indicates, must be tied into some sort of usefulness, which in turn is connected to how well we can move another’s heart. This is part of the secret of the epigraph from Mark Twain, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening.”
The ending chapter, addressed as a
Feb 17, 2014 rated it did not like it
I'm not a fan of Roger Rosenblatt's prose, but I liked the title--even though he stole it from the poet A.D. Hope--and that the subject matter was the writing classes at Stoney Brook. After reading this book, I also have disdain for the author. In the first chapter he mocks a student who objected to Rosenblatt cutting his 3 hour class off at 2 hours. He says, "I can't stand the sight of students for three hours. Even two hours is stretching it" (3). I guess you can afford to be cavalier, even ...more
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Roger Rosenblatt’s essays for Time magazine and PBS have won two George Polk Awards, a Peabody, and an Emmy. He is the author of six Off-Broadway plays and 13 books, including the national bestseller Rules for Aging and Children of War, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written two satirical novels, Beet and Lapham ...more
“Why do we write?
"To make suffering endurable
To make evil intelligible
To make justice desirable
and . . . to make love possible”
More quotes…